A Tale of Two Cities is a historical novel. While Dickens published the novel in 1859, the action of the plot begins in 1775. The novel’s opening purposefully evokes the past, giving a reader a sense of what this moment in time was like: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” This retrospective voice indicates the story to come will encompass a time period, and will be directly concerned with the events of that period. Historical novels use plots set during a time period prior to the time when the novel was written, and make reference to documented historical events or characters. However, authors most often use the genre in order to help the reader think more critically about the present moment. Dickens writes about the French Revolution as a way of showing how injustice and abuse of power led to violence and chaos, and warning readers that these same problems continue to exist in Victorian England.

Read about another work that uses historical events to comment on the time in which it was written, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.